Rethinking: You can do anything and You go girl.
This is coming up quite a bit in therapy lately. Maybe it's the positive thinking movement in psychology catching on. Or maybe the books that Oprah talks about are having the desired hypnotic effect, books like The Secret and A New Earth: Awakening Your Life's Purpose.
Maybe I don't know what it is that's going on because I haven't read the pop psychology books, the best sellers. So blee neder, (no promises) I'll try.
I watch movies. I'm glued to the TV. I read books. I do it for you.
And then we have ToBeMe quoting Franz Kafka, telling us to write our own story. This is a therapeutic intervention,* no doubt, writing one's future, skeptically assessing one's strengths and weaknesses, challenging perceptions of who we are and what we can become to rewrite our story.
I call it the plastic surgery of identity.
Even Franz says that that the only way to approach some problems is to try going at them by another, perhaps paradoxical path.
"There are some things one can only achieve by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction." Franz KafkaIf you think you can't dance, DANCE, says ToBeMe.
The Rambam, a 12th century commentator on the Talmud (and a doctor) advised that we exaggerate the opposite of the personality trait we don't like in ourselves. If we're shy, rather than try to be assertive, shoot for loud. Exaggerate that which you think impossible.
They're all right, Kafka, Rambam, ToBeMe. But John, one of my supervisors at the Center for Family Studies/Family Institute of Chicago a hundred years ago, says differently. And he's right, too.
John used to supervise students at CFS/FIC, which was and still is a hip place, now a master's degree program at Northwestern University in Evanston. I don't know where he is, but he said a few things to me that still stick.
The first day of class he introduced the concept of a Family World View. He told us that this is integral to how a family sees life and affects our behavior as adults in subtle, unconscious ways. Since it's so embedded in our upbringing, we're barely conscious of it. I don't know if he said it exactly this way, he probably didn't, but it's how I took it home.
We were a small group of trainees, probably five, and we had to tell over our family of origin world views, at least some of what we could remember.
And I said, thinking I was bragging about my old man, "Well, my father used to tell me, 'There's nothing you can't do.' I wasn't allowed to say, I can't. Ever."
This astounded John. "Poor you."
"Yeah. What a set up."
"I don't understand," I objected. "I think it gave me confidence. I approach most problems with a go-to-it attitude. If I fail I don't care. It's the challenge that matters. I'm a loser at Trivial Pursuits,** but I don't care!"
He told me that this worked, MAYBE, for me, (seeing through my every possible insecurity) because of natural talents and aptitudes and all sorts of strengths, mainly the family on my team, the big net to catch me.
So I was lucky. If I had come from a different family, however, and if I kept failing, and falling, I'd have been criticized and even emotionally, certainly verbally abused. In a different family, this kind of world view is dangerous.
In the wrong kind of family, if I had failed and kept failing, then for sure the flaw wouldn't be in the system. The flaw would be in me.
Low self-esteem. Self-loathing. Sex, drugs, rock and roll.
I guess I'm lucky I survived.
The whole experience really shook me up. Here you think that your parents raised you right, only to find that indeed, you're lucky that you made it past seventeen. Different genetics, different family, same world view, kabang!
Sure, I'm exaggerating. But what DO we do with this positivist, no can lose, be what you wanna' be, you-go-girl movement that's rocking the culture? Are our children going to raise children who are destined for disappointment? Johnny has to take antidepressants because he's too tall to be an astronaut? Becky can't lift five hundred pound weights so she's smoking crack?
I didn't tell John (too afraid to breathe at 27) that the corollary to what my parents told me is, Go ahead, try. And if you fail, if you fall, brush yourself off, pick yourself up, and pick a new major.
Which is why I'm not an artist today.
*A cognitive strategy, revisualizing a traumatic event in a different way can lesson the impact of the trauma, especially with repetition. There are other visualization techniques like this, and literally rewriting one's desired future is one of them, combining the behavior (writing) with the thought/wish.
The therapist is there, of course, to temper rewrites doomed to failure. Everyone needs a good editor.
**Depends upon the edition, sure, but usually I'll lose.